Just preceding the notes which caused us some difficulty yesterday regarding Patrick Flannigan and his early career path was an explanation of his Bishop’s current condition. Bishop Baraga, in November of 1862 being well past his sixty-fifth birthday, was experiencing some health problems as he continued his “annual visitations” of the missions and outposts under his care.
The Bishop’s customary route, initiated upon his elevation to the office on November 1, 1853, was no small traveling matter. The new Upper Peninsula diocese was, for the most part, isolated, rugged terrain. While some parts were accessible by steamer, a great many of the missions and small parishes were reached by primitive roads—showing us the means by which Frederic Baraga earned the nickname “The Snowshoe Priest” via the thousands of miles traveled in the course of his service to this northern region.
The ninth anniversary of consecration Bishop Baraga spent at the mission of St. Joseph. He had in his mind again to visit the Goulais mission, but upon his return to the Sault found it imperative to go to Ontonagon.
This change of mind—for whatever reason it came about—turns out to be for the benefit of our story regarding the ordination of Patrick Flannigan. It does end up costing the Bishop personally, as he begins his journey.
Beginning at his home base of Sault Ste. Marie, the Bishop will, by the end of this trip, have logged in over three hundred miles of travel in each direction. Though he is a man of much experience as far as traveling hardships go, such a journey is no small matter for a man of his age. It will not unfold uneventfully.
The Bishop began his trip conveniently enough:
He took the Northern Light, on November 4th, but this voyage proved to be a long and tedious one. Floating ice and bad weather delayed them at White-fish Point, thirty-six hours. They arrived in Hancock on the 7th at 4 p.m. On the boat he had already experienced a weakness which compelled him to discontinue the journey at this port.
Notes on the Bishop’s life indicate that, for his last ten years, he experienced declining health, including a series of strokes—providing us an indication of a possible cause of the “weakness” he was experiencing on board the Northern Light. And yet, he could not be deflected from his journey’s purpose.
Father Jacker received him cordially and cared for him most devotedly. He used his influence and persuasive power for a discontinuance of the journey, urging the enfeebled Bishop to remain at St. Ann’s till he should have recovered his strength. This marked solicitude was agreeable enough to Baraga, but duty forbade inactivity just at this juncture.
Thus at this point in Hancock followed the little interlude we’ve already covered, in which Father Jacker, Bishop Baraga and the subject of the discussion, Patrick Flannigan, examine the relative benefits of sending Mr. Flannigan back to seminary or claiming him for their own as the most-recently ordained priest in the diocese. As we saw, together, they arrived at the conclusion that the best path would be to ordain the young man.
It was at this point that the three—the Bishop, Father Jacker, and Patrick Flannigan—started out on foot in the severe November weather, headed from Hancock to their destination.
Accompanied by Father Jacker and P. M. Flannigan he ferried across the Portage to the Houghton side and briskly struck the Ontonagon road. For a while they all marched well; the muddy road and the six-mile hill had done their work: Baraga’s weakness returned. All day long, supported on one side by Father Jacker and on the other by Flannigan, he wearied along over the hills and dales of the primeval forest.
What else was there to do? There are simply some times in life when one can neither stay put with one’s problems, nor turn back for help. The only way out of the problem is to continue onward. Incredibly, that is what this persistent leader did—propped up on one side by his trusted advisor, on the other by his young disciple. With the better part of forty miles of travel by foot ahead of them, this was yet to be a challenging journey.
Above left: 1849 Land Survey Map of Michigan's Upper Peninsula; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.